Life at Vocational Dance Colleges

Vocational Dance Colleges

For many dancers over the age of 16, the New Year spells auditions for vocational colleges. Many students who prefer to get their applications in early may have already heard from a college about whether they will have to pack up their tap shoes, ballet tights and jazz pants because they have or have not been awarded a place.

Some colleges have a specific uniform they prefer their students to wear both in and outside college during weekdays. Many sell tracksuits and other mandatory items, whereas most prefer a style of leotard, practice shoe, clothing colour, or all three! It is essential that as an emerging young dancer you are able to display a certain level of versatility, which also extends to your ‘look’ and style. Regardless of how you move or how high you can kick your leg, some choreographers prefer to focus on looks and clothing style before anything else in a class or audition. If you look the part then your performance will be much more convincing.

It is also important to look after your health whilst at a vocational college. For many students this is their first time away from their homes, and remembering to eat well and maintain your health can often get lost amongst other, additional parts of life. Your body will also change in terms of shape, strength and form, so looking after your body correctly is vital. Colleges which offer many dance disciplines and subjects can be extremely demanding: on top of remembering dance phrases, etiquette and class routines you must also remember to fuel yourself.

Whilst it is important to throw yourself into the course and enjoy every moment of vocational college life, it is also important to remain grounded and reasoned. The time will fly past – good luck!

Singin’ In The Rain Set To Tour

Singing In The Rain

If you are busy this spring planning your summer theatre outings to London’s West End then make Singin’ in the Rain one show near the top of your list.

It has been announced that the West End show, on par with its 1952 MGM version of the musical, is set to close in August 2013. This will be ahead of a national tour of an all-singing, all-dancing troupe – complete with umbrellas – around the country in 2014, closing with a run in Chichester where the show originally played in July 2011. The UK-wide tour is understood to start in November 2013, with a proposed opening in Manchester after spending just eighteen months at the Palace Theatre in London.

2012/13 has already seen many productions join and leave the West End in quick succession, making theatre turnarounds very quick, with only just enough time to settle the tan tights and tap shoes before having to move on again. However, touring productions give theatre fanatics in other parts of the country, without the chance to journey to London to see huge shows such as Singin’ in the Rain, the opportunity to feast their eyes on an array of talent. Touring companies also provide many performing jobs for those who may struggle to secure roles in London, but who have no trouble taking to the road, performing whilst travelling.

The musical is directed by Jonathan Church, artistic director at Chichester Festival Theatre, and has choreography by Andrew Wright, who recently ‘Best Choreographer’ at the Whatsonstage Awards. Adam Cooper is currently playing Don Lockwood in the show, a role he has played since the production opened in Chichester, with Jennifer Ellison recently joining the cast as Lina Lamont.

The World Of Andrew Wright

Andrew Wright is a musical theatre choreographer achieving more and more prominence in the theatre world. Most recently nominated for, and winning, Best Choreographer for Singin’ in the Rain at the Palace Theatre in the What’s On Stage Awards 2013, he is creating fantastic and entertaining work, and looks set to stay at the forefront of the musical theatre industry.

Aside from Singin’ in the Rain, Wright has also recently worked on the High Society and Wonderful Town UK tours, with 2013 alone demonstrating his choreographic talent in encompassing all aspects of the performance industry. Wright has also worked with artists such as Elaine Paige, Jane McDonald, Idina Menzal and Caroline O’ Connor, and worked alongside such directors as Jonathan Church, Paul Kerryson, Braham Murray, Nikolai Foster, Phil Wilmott, Richard Frost and Lisa Kent.

Before choreographing, Wright trained at the Arts Educational School, London, and went on to have his own fair share of West End performance stints. He performed for thirteen years, in shows such as Mary Poppins, Cats, Follies, Anything Goes, Mack and Mabel and Beauty and the Beast, and now works as a full-time choreographer in his own right. To date his career has encompassed a wide range of productions from West End musicals to arena events, working with 400 strong choirs to intimate cabarets of one person. In addition to 2013, 2012 saw Wright nominated for the Best Theatre Choreographer Olivier Award, with his work continuing to spread throughout London and the south.

Next up for Wright will be welcoming Jennifer Ellison to the cast of Singin’ in the Rain as Lina Lamont, taking over from Katherine Kingsley for the West End cast. Other cast members will also be altering, such as those playing characters Kathy Selden and Cosmo Brown, completing the trio made famous by Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Conner in 1952 MGM musical film.

Charlotte Wakefield – Star of Mamma Mia! The Musical

Charlotte Wakefield in Mamma Mia! The MusicalHaving broken box office records at its previous homes – the Prince Edward and Prince of Wales Theatre – Mamma Mia!, now in its 14th year in London, has continued to break box office records at the Novello Theatre. Mamma Mia! originally opened in London at the Prince Edward Theatre in April 1999, before transferring to the Prince of Wales Theatre in June 2004. The musical re-opened at the NovelloTheatre in September 2012.

To date Mamma Mia! has been seen by more than 50 million people in 37 productions in 14 different languages. Judy Craymer’s ingenious vision of staging the story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs on a Greek island sees an enchanting tale of family and friendship unfolding on an apparent island paradise. From West End to global phenomenon, the London production Mamma Mia! has been seen by more than 1 in 10 of the entire UK population. It is also one of only five musicals to have run for more than 10 years both on Broadway and in the West End.

With Mothering Sunday coming up, what better way to get in the mood than to chat with Charlotte Wakefield who plays free spirited daughter Sophie Sheridan in the hit West End musical about training, life on tour, the London show and why Mamma Mia! is the best show to come and see as mother and daughter.

Charlotte, aged 22, is a mine of information, having started working in the industry aged 10.

“I haven’t actually trained professionally at all! I trained in dance from the age of 3 in classical ballet and tap, and then went on to attend Stagecoach classes at weekends. I got my first job through the agency when I was 10, and left Stagecoach when I was 18 when I was offered my first West End job.”

Charlotte made her West End debut in Spring Awakening and had already worked on television from an early age.

“I stuck at it and worked hard taking lots of classes, with my West End career starting at 18 despite the fact I worked professionally from 10 years old. It’s interesting as you could say I’ve done it the hard way: I just happened to get a break before I got to drama school. If I hadn’t have got the role in Spring Awakening I would definitely have applied to drama school, but I skipped that step!”

As a result, Charlotte’s experiences were a little different than those of typical drama school students, but she still feels as though she has learnt a lot from the way things have turned out.

“I didn’t manage to create a network of friends as you would at drama school, but I did make close friends with the people I worked with in Spring Awakening. We were all aged 16 to 25 and were starting out making our West End debuts, so we shared something special. I learnt a lot on the job, which is priceless, rather than learning at drama school, and experienced the industry first hand straight away. I feel I have become more of a ‘raw actor’ because of it, and have learnt different skills from other actors, and have been able to make my own choices.”

Whilst Charlotte’s journey into the theatrical industry may not be a typical one, she is now settled into life as Sophie as the leading female in Mamma Mia!.

“Half term meant we worked a 9 show week, adding in an extra matinee performance, but my day-to-day life is quite straight forward. At the moment I am auditioning during the day and having singing lessons, but I try not to push myself too hard through the week and make sure I chill out. The adrenaline from the evening shows means that I go to sleep around 1.30am, and try to sleep for a full 8 hours. During the day I usually have a singing lesson, a massage or an appointment with a physiotherapist and then leave for work at the theatre. We have a vocal and physical warm up and then I do my own stretching before getting ready for the performance.”

With a show that is as demanding as Mamma Mia! Charlotte has to work very hard, especially as her character Sophie is such a content-heavy role. Before securing Sophie in the West End, Charlotte also played the main character for a year on the International Tour.

“Touring is completely different to working in the West End! We did a worldwide tour of Mamma Mia! and spent about 2 weeks in each place. We were playing on a much bigger scale – the set was twice the size! – and sometimes played to arenas of around 5,000 people, which was a massive experience! The show atmosphere was very different, and we were able to go and visit places and explore during the day, which meant travelling to these amazing places was so much fun, while we were doing a job we loved.”

The bright lights of the West End have called Charlotte back, and now she has chance to reflect.

“I always wanted to play Sophie, and I got the chance to do it whilst travelling the world, as well as doing it here in London now – I was lucky to be cast again. I wanted to work in this industry for years! The West End seems like a dreamy place, but we have to work hard at our jobs. It’s taxing on our bodies with injuries and exhaustion, and performing is a dream for most people. There are lots of tough parts to doing your hobby professionally – your friends can be your competitors in auditions, and you need a lot of stamina, physically and mentally. But, once you get on stage you absolutely want to do it!”

The role of Sophie is a busy one for Charlotte, but she relishes in being able to give the audience something special, especially in a show that is as popular as Mamma Mia!.

“I haven’t got a favourite part of the show as the whole thing is so much fun. There’s a big finale which is a 7 minute long megamix of ABBA songs and lots of dancing. The audience can finally stand up and dance and sing too after itching to join in, and can let go and enjoy themselves! Sophie is a very hectic role, so if I ever come off stage it’s for a quick costume change and I’m back on – the whole show is one big scene for me!

Sophie’s relationships with the many characters are varied, but it seems none matches that with her free-spirited mother Donna, forming much of the dynamic within the show.

“Donna and Sophie are very close characters as they are both fairly free spirits. There is no husband/father figure as such in their lives and they have built up their existence on a Greek island on their own. Their relationship is quite casual, more friend-like than authoritative mother-daughter. Sophie is free too and is naive for that reason, and that’s what causes their fall-out. It’s an odd feeling as they are very similar, but the audiences love the characters and the relationship between them.”

With Mothering Sunday coming, the eternal relationship between Sophie and Donna is epitomised by mothers and daughters everywhere. Charlotte thinks seeing Mamma Mia! is the perfect mother and daughter outing, with now being an ideal time.

“Sophie putting on her wedding dress and getting married are just two lovely moments which make up the female-strong show. Slipping through my fingers is particularly moving song about mother-daughter relationships, as well as the friendships and girl power which make the show happy and uplifting for mothers and daughters watching. Mamma Mia! definitely gives something to share with mothers and daughters being together.

Coming to a close, Charlotte gives a few pointers and helpful advice for aspiring performers.

“Always remain positive. There is so much rejection in the industry that you have to keep trying, be strong willed and always accept criticism. Be over prepared for auditions and make sure that you really want to enter the industry, because if not there will always be someone who wants it more than you! Above all, it is the most fun job in the world but it is not easy. Work hard!”

The Anniversary of Anna Pavlova

Anna PavlovaFor 2013, 12th February marked the 132nd birthday of celebrated ballerina Anna Pavlova, born 12 February 1881.

After attending the Imperial Ballet School, Pavlova made her company debut with the Imperial Russian Ballet in 1899 and soon became prima ballerina. She joined Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in 1909 and formed her own company in 1911. However, Pavlova was a favourite of legendary choreographer Marius Petipa and was a hugely influential figure in dance and a key figure in the development of British ballet, even going on to inspire Frederick Ashton.

Pavlova’s Imperial Ballet-trained technique gave her a means to convey what mattered to her most: her expressiveness, rather than the steps. By the time most of the films of her dancing were made in the 1920s, she was relying on very simple choreography without fifth position, pirouettes, or arabesques, but runs on pointe, legs parallel, defining her legendary status beneath her Dying Swan tiara with strong, arched feet and beautiful arms and legs. The Dying Swan, the solo choreographed for her by Mikhail Fokine in 1907 was retained as her signature piece, with Pavlova dancing it 4,000 times.

In June 2012, the Pavlova Festival took place held at Ivy House in North London, Pavlova’s former home from 1912 until her death in 1931 after contracting double pneumonia. The festival included a number of special events, including a photographic exhibition and a film season at the British Film Institute, playing tribute to Pavlova’s beautiful art form, and an exquisite tutu and pointe shoes. It is over 100 years since Pavlova decided to leave Russia and make London her home, with Ivy House being the base from which she conducted her ballet school, training young girls who aspired to be part of her touring company.

Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

Vaslav Nijinsky tribute

Vaslav NijinskiSunday 10th March 2013 will see the London Coliseum host a tribute performance to Vaslav Nijinsky, one of the greatest male dancers of the early twentieth century. The performance will be made up of a Russian Ballet Icons Gala and Dinner, celebrating the life and work of a legend, with today’s ballet world owing much to this ballet dancer in particular.

Nijinsky’s parents owned their own dance company, performing throughout the Russian Empire. At the age of nine, Nijinsky entered the Imperial School of Dancing in St. Petersburg, graduating in 1907 and joining the Mariinsky Theatre as a soloist. Following his first role in La Source with Russian ballerina Julia Sedova, Nijinsky’s success was phenomenal. He went on to join Diaghilev as principal dancer in 1909, and was commended for his expression, the beauty of his body, his featherweight lightness and steel-like strength, his great elevation, and his extraordinary virtuosity and dramatic acting. 1912 saw Nijinsky’s career as a choreographer begin, creating L’Aprés-midi d’un faune, Jeux and Le Sacre du printemps for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, heralded as daringly original.

As part of the Russian Ballet Icons series, the evening will present a unique opportunity to see several pieces from Nijinsky’s repertoire such as Petrushka, Les Sylphides, Scheherazade, The Spectre of the Rose, The Afternoon of a Faun, as well as modern masterpieces by contemporary choreographers such as Wayne Eagling, Wayne McGregor, Jerome Robbins, Kim Brandstrup, August Bournonville and Russell Maliphant. The programme will be presented by dancers from the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theatres, the Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, the Vienna Staatsoper, and the Stanislavski Theatre, Moscow, with the cast including Leanne Benjamin, Alina Cojocaru, J’aime Crandall, Dmitriy Gruzdev, Dmitry Gudanov, Kirill Kurlyaev, Alban Lendorf, Marianela Nunez, Evgenia Obraztsova, Artem Ovcharenko, Ludmila Pagliero, Giuseppe Picone, Ivan Putrov, Marianna Ryzhkina, Thiago Soares, Iñaki Urlezaga, Edward Watson, Maria Yakovleva and Svetlana Zakharova.


Martha Graham Dance Company Vs Hurricane Sandy

Martha Graham Dance Company

The Martha Graham Dance Company was just one affected by Hurricane Sandy, yet despite all odds the company is drawing itself back up to full height, long skirts and contractions included. The storm flooded the company’s production office, and sets and costumes were severely damaged.

The repertory, created by one of the pioneers of American modern dance, Martha Graham, is one which examines humanity, the soul and all the emotions in between. In order to fulfil the practicalities of being a full-fledged dance company, the company needed many items which were damaged for upcoming performances. Dancers, staff and a crew of volunteers worked to recover items from the company’s basement in order to restore order. Some costumes, many of which are original garments and some even worn by Martha Graham, returned to their pre-Sandy state, whereas others had to be entirely reconstructed.

So far the company has not missed a deadline or a costume requirement due to the sheer effort and support of others. However, Hurricane Sandy has also presented opportunities for the company, such as dancing without sets. The company has been able to experiment in many ways, for example, staging Graham’s 1947 classic Errand Into the Maze without its usual set of a large piece resembling a U-shaped tree that the dancer climbs all over. This enabled a reimagining of the famous setting whilst remaining true to such distinct choreography: the company meanwhile has time to recover more of its belongings.

Sets like those for Errand Into the Maze would have been replaced over time due to normal wear and tear, but Hurricane Sandy forced this to happen in quick succession. Performances in 2013 so far have meant the company borrowing items and solving problems: American Ballet Theatre even loaned its costumes for Graham’s 1949 Diversion of Angels, which has been the ABT repertory since 1999.

The Fonteyn-Nureyev Partnership

Rudolf Nureyev and Margot FonteynThe partnership of Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn is one which dance audiences and balletomanes alike still speculate about. However, it remains that their partnership is perhaps one of the most celebrated and talked about in the world.

It was one of fantastic chemistry and strength, and is arguably reflected today in Daria Klimentova and Vadim Muntagirow of English National Ballet, who have a similar age gap and performance quality to Fonteyn and Nureyev.

Nureyev was invited to make his London debut in 1961 at the annual gala organised by Margot Fonteyn for the Royal Academy of Dancing (now Royal Academy of Dance) of which she was President.

Following the gala Nureyev went on to be invited to dance in Giselle with Fonteyn, in addition to Swan Lake and the Don Quixote pas de deux, amongst many others. Work such as this laid the foundations for Nureyev’s subsequent career and link with the Royal Ballet.

The relationship between Fonteyn and Nureyev was seemingly one of balance, despite one in pointe shoes and a tutu, and the other in tights and a tunic. At 23 years old, Nureyev gave Fonteyn new life and vigour and in return Fonteyn provided Nureyev with inspiration to focus on his future career. Each dancer learned much from the other, each having similar dancing goals: this developed into one of the most talked about partnerships of the dancing world, even after their deaths and presumably far into the future too.

In their era, audiences were desperate to witness the Fonteyn-Nureyev charismatic performances and engage with some of the magic they created on stage. As a result of the demand for seeing the pair dance together, their agent went on to charge much more for the dancers as a pair than the sum of their individual fees, which was already soaring.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Ruthie Henshall

Ruthie Henshall

Ruthie Henshall, with her multi-award winning career, has starred in some of the best-loved and popular musicals of the last twenty five years on both Broadway and London’s West End, donning character shoes, leotards and tights and tap shoes throughout. In addition to her tremendous success in plays, in concert and on television, Henshall has starred on stage in Cats, Miss Saigon, Crazy For You, She Loves Me, Marguerite, Oliver!, A Chorus Line, Les Misérables and Chicago. Quite the leading lady… not too mention her stint as a judge on TV show Dancing on Ice!

Following Henshall’s training at the prestigious vocational college Laine Theatre Arts, she went on to join the UK tour cast of A Chorus Line and consequently made her West End debut in Cats, having the chance to play Jemima, Demeter, Jellylorum, Griddlebone and Grizabella. Henshall’s comprehensive and arguably illustrious career has seen her become one of the most popular West End artists, having created roles, been nominated for and won Olivier Awards, and revisiting roles when asked to recreate them, such as Fantine for the tenth anniversary of Les Misérables.

Henshall is perhaps most well known, however, for shaking and shimmying in Chicago, firstly as one of the original London company members of the revival. Henshall has since gone on to play both leads (Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly) in London and on Broadway, spending three years in New York City. Aside from all-performing musicals Henshall has toured extensively in the UK, US and Australia, and is currently touring the UK in An Intimate Evening with Ruthie Henshall, providing audiences with snippets or career through songs and amusing anecdotes from her training and musical theatre days. Without a feather boa in sight Henshall provided a snapshot of her hectic yet completely rewarding schedule, and has eight dates to go!

Changes Within The Royal Ballet

The Royal BalletFirst Artist Jonathan Watkins is set to leave The Royal Ballet on 23 February to embark on a freelance career as a choreographer/director. Watkins joined the company in 2003, with his interest in choreography sparking as a student at The Royal Ballet School and continued in his transition to larger ballet shoes as part of the company. Watkins has, most recently, choreographed Diana and Actaeon as part of Titian: Metamorphosis 2012 with William Tuckett and Liam Scarlett. His many outside commissions to date include two short films for Channel 4 and serving as movement director for Alan Bennett’s latest play People at the National Theatre. Next for Watkins are numerous projects such as choreographing new works in Russia and America, and a collection of theatre and film projects.

Principal Dancer Mara Galeazzi will also leave, hanging up her pointe shoes and passing down her tutus when she retires in July 2013 at the end of the current season. Galeazzi will focus on new projects, teaching dance and her work for her charity foundation Dancing for The Children which raises funds for sick children in Africa. Galeazzi joined the company in 1992 and was promoted to Principal in 2003. She has danced a wide range of the repertory, both classic and contemporary, including works by Ashton, MacMillan, Cranko, Balanchine, McGregor and Wheeldon. Galeazzi is most well-known for her dramatic interpretation of many leading roles in Kenneth MacMillan’s ballets including Juliet, Mary Vetsera and Marie Larische in Mayerling, Manon and Lescaut’s Mistress in Manon, and the Woman in The Judas Tree. Galeazzi’s farewell performance at the Royal Opera House will be as Mary Vetsera in Mayerling on 13 June, and her final performance with The Royal Ballet will be in Monaco where she will perform the title role in Manon on 29 June.